DAYTON, OH – It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and it has been for weeks now, as many people try to spread some cheer in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. One holiday staple – the Christmas tree – has been popping up on top of cars and in windows everywhere much earlier than in typical years, extending the trees’ inside display time to six weeks or more by the time Christmas Day arrives. However, this extended display time actually increases the potential for live Christmas trees to become fire hazards.
AAA urges everyone to prioritize safety when transporting a Christmas tree and preventing it from becoming a fire hazard. According to the American Red Cross, home fires can happen at any time, but they generally increase during the fall and winter, with December and January being the peak months.
“If not properly secured, a tree can cause vehicle damage such as scratched paint, torn door seals, distorted window frames, or even worse, it could fly off the vehicle and become a danger to other drivers,” said Kara Hitchens, AAA Senior Specialist. “In addition to safely transporting a Christmas tree, we urge those displaying live trees in their homes for the holidays to do so properly and remember to watch the tree daily to avoid having it dry out and become a fire hazard.”
Once the Christmas tree reaches its holiday home safely, proper placement and decorations are key to prevent a devastating house fire. The National Fire Protection Association reports that although Christmas tree fires are rare, when they do occur, they are more likely to be serious:
- Between 2013-2017, U.S. fire departments responded to an average 160 home fires that started with Christmas trees per year.
- These fires caused an average of three deaths, 15 injuries, and $10 million in direct property damage annually.
- On average, one of every 52 reported home fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 135 total reported home fires.
- Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in 44 percent of home Christmas tree fires.
- Two of every five (39 percent) home Christmas tree fires started in the living room.
- In one-quarter (25 percent) of the Christmas tree fires, some type of heat source, such as a candle or equipment, was too close to the tree.
“No one wants to have their holiday ruined by a house fire that could have been prevented,” said Hitchens. “While you may look at your tree as the centerpiece of your holiday decorations, you must treat it as a potential fire danger and take steps to protect your family and your home.”
Make sure the fireplace is all that gets “lit.”
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) offers the following tips to reduce the risk of a house fire this Christmas.
- Make sure the Christmas tree is at least three feet away from any heat source (fireplace, radiator, candles, heat vents, or lights)
- Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.
- Add water to your tree daily.
- Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Never use lit candles to light the tree.
- Always turn off the lights on the tree before going to bed or leaving home.
Tie One On - Properly
According to AAA research, an estimated 84 million Americans (33 percent) will purchase a real Christmas tree and of those:
- 44 percent of Americans who plan to purchase a real Christmas tree will transport the tree using unsafe methods.
- 20 percent will tie the tree to the roof of their vehicle without using a roof rack
- 24 percent plan to place the tree in the bed of their pickup truck unsecured.
- Among those planning to purchase a live Christmas tree this year, 16 percent have previously experienced a Christmas tree falling off or out of their vehicle during transport.
- An improperly secured Christmas tree can cost drivers as much as $1,500 in repairs.
- Previous research from AAA found that road debris caused more than 200,000 crashes during a four-year period, resulting in approximately 39,000 injuries and 500 deaths.
“Twine that is wrapped around trees and looped through door jambs or open windows can cause serious vehicle damage such as scratched paint, torn door seals and distorted window frames – damage that could cost up to $1,500 to repair,” said Hitchens. "Worse yet, improperly securing a Christmas tree to your vehicle could present a serious road danger if it comes loose and flies off into traffic.”
AAA notes, transporting a real Christmas tree is easy as long as you have the tools and follow these simple tips:
- Do not visit. If you or anyone from your family has tested positive for COVID-19 or are experiencing COVID-related symptoms, do not visit a tree lot.
- Call the lot ahead of time. Ask about their policies for visiting. It is possible they may have reduced operating hours or are limiting the amount of people who can visit the lot at one time. It is also a good idea to ask when they are slow and plan to visit then, when crowds may be smaller.
- Wear a face covering and practice social distancing. Although most lots are located outside, it is recommended to take all necessary precautions while shopping.
- Use the right vehicle. It’s best to transport a Christmas tree on top of a vehicle equipped with a roof rack. However, if you do not have a roof rack, use the bed of a pickup truck or an SUV, van or minivan that can fit the tree inside with all doors closed.
- Bring proper tools. Bring strong rope or nylon ratchet straps to secure the tree to your vehicle’s roof rack. Avoid the lightweight twine offered by many tree lots. Bring an old blanket and gloves.
- Protect the tree - and your vehicle. Have the tree wrapped in netting before loading it. If netting is unavailable, secure loose branches with rope or twine. Use an old blanket to prevent paint scratches and protect the vehicle finish.
- Point the trunk towards the front. Always place the tree on a roof rack or in a pickup bed with the bottom of the trunk facing the front of the vehicle.
- Tie it down. Secure the tree at its bottom, center and top. At the bottom, use fixed vehicle tie-down points and loop around the trunk above a lower branch, to prevent any side-to-side or front-to-rear movement. The center and top tie downs should be installed in a similar manner.
- Give it the tug test. Before you leave the lot, give the tree several strong tugs from various directions to make sure it is secured in place and will not blow away.
- Drive slowly and easily. Take the back roads, if possible. Higher speeds create significant airflow that can damage your Christmas tree and challenge even the best tie-down methods.
AAA provides automotive, travel, and insurance services to 58 million members nationwide and more than three million members in Ohio. AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years. AAA is a non-stock, non-profit corporation working on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel, and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app (AAA.com/mobile) for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit www.AAA.com.